Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Tap, Rack--or How Not to Blow Up Your Pistol

I was always somewhat skeptical when I heard stories of rounds detonating in the ejection port.

At one point, a common response to the slide of a pistol failing to go into battery was to strike the rear of the slide. I do not see this too often as striker fired pistols have come into mainstream usage. However as we see in the incident discussed below, that may not be a very good idea and indeed could be very dangerous as well.

I was serving as the match director in our Short Range Match when I heard a loud pop instead of a bang as a competitor was completing a stage. I looked up and saw the safety officer walking toward me with the competitor who was holding his left hand with blood pouring through his fingers. His pistol was lying on the ground where it had fallen from his hand.

The competitor's pistol had failed to go into battery and he had aggressively hit the back of the slide with his left palm in an attempt to clear the malfunction. As he did this, his fingers went forward over the top of the slide just as the round detonated in the open ejection port. Fragments of brass severely cut his left index and middle fingers. After examining the competitor's injured left-hand, a doctor at the scene determined that he was not seriously injured and only had some bloody but not serious cuts.The competitor was a heart surgeon so this was welcome news indeed!

When I retrieved and examined the pistol, I saw that the remains of the detonated round were still in the ejection port. The round had nosedived into the feed ramp and that in doing so it literally positioned the primer exactly over the extractor. When the competitor slammed the slide forward with his left hand the extractor had crushed the primer causing the 9mm round to detonate.

If you look at photo #1 above you can get an idea of the quantity of brass fragments that struck the shooter’s hand. In photo #2 you can see where the extractor (not the ejector--look at the picture) crushed the primer (pistol was a Kahr 9mm). This particular gentleman was very forceful when he manipulated his pistol. Photo #3 shows where the force of the detonation slammed the bullet into the feed ramp. Photo #4 provides another view.

In my classes I teach that the proper response to a click instead of a bang is to tap the magazine (to ensure it is properly seated) and rack the slide—tap, rack. This will often clear the malfunction. If it does not, the proper response is to lock the slide back, aggressively strip the magazine out, and then reload the pistol and continue to fire if the circumstances warrant. 

After reloading, if it does not fire you probably have a broken pistol that's not going to be easily fixed on the spot. If you are under assault, the proper response at that point is to aggressively depart the area or take other necessary action.

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  1. This happened to me with an old Ruger auto pistol way back in the early 80's. Fortunately it was just a 22 and scared me more than it caused any real injury. It bruised my right index finger just a bit with some minor powder burns. I just let the action drop on its own and the round popped off basically in open air. To this day I'm a little careful which way the open port is facing before chambering a round.

  2. You have a consistent typo in your post. You say "extractor", when you mean to say "ejector". I got the point, but it's an important distinction.

    1. Had to have been the extractor. The ejector is mounted into the frame of the pistol, and wouldn't have moved forward with the slide to impact the primer. The extractor draws the spent casing out of the breach, the ejector simply gets hit by the casing as the slide moves rearward. Removing the casing from the extractor.

    2. Take a good look at the primer. That's way too wide to be from an ejector.

    3. Kahr pistols have both an extractor which pulls the spent casing from the chamber and an ejector that pushes the casing out when the slide reaches the rear most point of travel. It is likely that the ejector was not yet exposed due to its position on the frame.

  3. Probably not a typo. The extractor "pulls back" the empty case so the ejector can eject the empty. The extractor, by virtue of its location, would be the likely "culprit" for crushing the primer.

  4. Unintended ignition from the ejector is FAR more common than from the extractor. Look inside the gun. What else sticks out far enough to even hit the primer? I've done postmortems on a few guns where the shooter blew his own gun up trying to clear a jam and one where some fool did that silly last round flip thing you see at matches all the time. On each one the remains of the case had perfect impressions of the ejector smashed into the primer.

  5. Hey Eric,
    I just saw this article by you posted on Facebook's "Front Sight First Family" (closed group). You're getting national/international exposure. Very cool.

  6. https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2010/02/15/kahr-pm9-kaboom/
    long standing issue with the Kahr extractor

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